Vet handles the streets of Milwaukee - Milwaukee VA Medical Center
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Milwaukee VA Medical Center


Vet handles the streets of Milwaukee

Ride on the Wild Side

Eric Fife was among the few the completed the 27-miles trek. And the only to complete on a handbike.

By Benjamin Slane
Sunday, September 15, 2013

     A cold, rainy 27-mile ride is not what Eric Fife had in mind when signing up for Milwaukee Zoological Society's Bike on the Wild Side last Sunday.

"I was thinking on the way down here," said the army veteran Fife. "I really put my foot in my mouth. I more or less just joked, 'Oh, 27 miles, that is no problem.' So I was surprised when Doc Lee said were doing the full 27."

Fife had not travelled more than 8 miles on a bike, ever.

On Sunday 16 Milwaukee VA Medical Center veterans, volunteers and staff, took to the streets and trails of Milwaukee as part of the Ride on the Wild Side organized the Milwaukee County Zoological Society as a fundraiser.  The rides were 2.5, 17 and 27 miles; in the cold and in the rain. Which was a downpour a majority of the time.

The weather, nor the cold, hampered the spirit of the riders. 

Fife was an infantryman in the 3rd U.S. Infantry Division at Ft. Myers, Florida, known as the Old Guard. In 2007, Fife suffered a spinal cord compression and subsequently paralyzed after a balcony collapsed that he and a group of buddies were on at a house.

"My biggest worry," Fife said. "Was not being able to be in the army. That is what I lived for, that is what I knew."

Fife lost confidence in his abilities to accomplish tasks and would not do tasks that required him to be mobile in a wheelchair. At the Milwaukee VA's Spinal Cord Injury Center are helping make changes find a comfort zone.

"The SCI staff are really great, they call me at least 2, 3, times a week about some event coming up," Fife said.

"We had a great turnout by our veterans despite the weather," said Dr. Ken Lee, director of SCI. "Good camaraderie, many exercise potentials and great endurance training."

When this particular bike ride came up, he was more just over embellishing his ability to do it.

Lee was not worried about Fife's ability to complete the ride and said he would have expected him to ride more miles, if the environment was favorable.

As Fife and the rest of the VA crew entered the parking lot at the end of the race under a full downpour, as the weather had been for the last two hours.

"It was a lot longer than I expected," Fife said. "I was worried about my joints hurting, being a wheelchair makes me strong up top, but the joints are something else."

Fife takes a long deep breath, and exhales with a steely-eyed-gaze.

"Bring on the 50-miler."

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